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Politicians challenged as inequality gap widens

Economic experts challenged Scotland's politicians to tackle inequality

Economic experts challenged Scotland's politicians yesterday to tackle inequality, warning that tinkering with tax rates wasn't enough.

Inequality in Scotland is around five percentage points higher than it is in Nordic countries, according to the GINI index - commonly used as a measure of inequality of wealth.

But University of Stirling researchers Dr David Comerford and David Eiser warned that even an independent Scotland would find its new fiscal powers "relatively blunt tools with which to address inequality."

While small Nordic nations - favoured by the first minister as a model for independence - had lower levels of inequality than Scotland, they featured a more even distribution of income across the population, even before progressive tax and benefit policies were taken into account.

"Therefore, even with full autonomy for tax and benefit policy, the Scottish government might need to look beyond fiscal policy and redistribution to achieve the substantial reductions in inequality that it desires.

"Achieving Nordic levels of inequality in Scotland will likely have to involve some equalisation of incomes before taxes and benefits, rather than a large increase in redistribution," the report said.

The findings emerged as trade unionists in Scotland prepared for the national launch of Scotland's People's Assembly, a network of local pressure groups to demand socialist alternatives to Britain's austerity agenda.

Chairman Phil McGarry told the Morning Star he hoped to steer clear of the independence "bunfight" itself.

But he hoped the local assemblies would compel politicians and voters of all stripes to consider the People's Charter, with demands ranging from nationalisation of the finance sector and "essential industries" to interest-free home loans and rent controls.

"If the constitutional question is settled one way or the other on September 18, we still have a fair way to go to achieve equality in Scotland - no matter what colour your rosette," he said.

"The economic policy of austerity has failed and a window of opportunity exists to argue that there is a better way."

"The People's Assembly throughout the country has shown the way and we in Scotland will commit ourselves to mobilise support for fairness, justice, equality and restoration of our trade union rights.

"It's time austerity ended," he said.

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